Q: I am new to the screenplay business. I do not have an agent since I have not yet had anything produced and the agents that I have approached are not taking on new clients. I have written a screenplay that has been a contest winner. I have shopped around and have attracted some interest from producers. There has been discussion about re-writes and touch ups. At what point is it appropriate to discuss the payment for the screenplay? Further to this, at what point does one seek legal advice?
A: Producers love to give “feedback” on scripts, and ask the writers to re-write, revise and tweak the script before they commit to purchasing the rights. My usual advice is that writers NOT perform writing services for free, especially if the producer asking for such rewriting hasn't yet purchased an option on the material.
The harsh reality, for many writers, though, is that producers won't option material they feel needs work unless the writer is prepared to first make some changes. Moreover, producers may want to see whether the writer is one they will want to work with. So, writers often agree to perform a free rewrite or polish in order to entice a producer to purchase an option.
What I recommend is that writers listen to all producers' comments and notes with an open mind, and if something ‘feels' worthwhile, go ahead and do a little rewriting, before resubmitting the material. Otherwise, it's appropriate to discuss business before doing the rewrite.
I'd only go-around like this once, though… after that, the producer should put some money where his/her mouth is. Purchasing an option is not a tremendous capital outlay. If a producer has some “skin in the game”, he's more likely to push forward with the project, so don't be shy about asking for a deal, payment, etc.
A producer who's unwilling to pay for a script, rewrite, or whatever, is probably not that passionate about your material. Moreover, if you're going to spend time writing, I think you're better off writing another, new spec, rather than reworking your older material.
When should you seek legal advice? It's never too early to establish a relationship with an entertainment lawyer. Regardless, don't sign anything without getting some good advice. Even the simplest looking document can be loaded with traps for the unwary.
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